I can just imagine and almost hear the hint of agony in Jesus’ voice addressing the magnificent city. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).
Rejection is hard. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Without doubt, Jesus felt rejected, saddened, wounded, troubled, and perhaps on the verge of tears. If Jesus wept for the death of Lazarus, how much more would He weep for a city of several thousands, like Jerusalem?
I have often wondered which images Jesus saw as He set His eyes towards Jerusalem before His imminent death. An image of the cross on which He was going to be crucified? A picture of the crowds who would soon mercilessly shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”? A vision of every drop of blood He was going to shed for the whole of humanity? Or perhaps, all of the above?
I live literally five miles from Jerusalem. Sadly, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the two neighbouring towns, are separated by a gigantic cement wall due to ongoing political tensions. During Easter, the majority of Christians in the West Bank are given permission to visit the city next door, across the wall; across the barriers and checkpoints. The possibility of going to Jerusalem is seen as a novelty for the locals, escaping what seems like a physical prison, to appreciate and cherish some limited hours of freedom.
On my way to Jerusalem, as I venture through the checkpoints and enter the ancient city, I wonder if Jesus would still be sad for Jerusalem. I also wonder what is it that He sees as His eyes look at the city today? What is it that grieves His compassionate heart? Are there people still shouting, “Crucify Him!”? Are there people who are renouncing His Kingdom and Kingship? Jerusalem was the site of the greatest victory ever achieved, the city where evil was overcome, death defeated, injustice conquered and the forces of darkness chained. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for the cross, and only the cross. And yet, whether within the walls of Jerusalem or out, how often we forget to boast in the power of the cross!
Before Jesus walked to the cross, He entered Jerusalem on a donkey. One of the highlights of this season has always been my family’s tradition to go to Jerusalem every Palm Sunday and walk in the footsteps of Jesus starting from Bethpage to the Mount of Olives. A significant parade takes place every year on Palm Sunday where Christians from all denominations in the Holy Land shout, “Hosanna in the highest…Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
But really, what is it that we are we shouting in our hearts, in our ways, in our thoughts, in our actions? “Hosanna in the Highest”? “Save us Son of David”? Whilst massive crowds shouted Hosanna two thousand years ago, more likely yearning for political salvation, spiritual salvation should have first place on our agenda. For “What good is it if a man gains the whole world and loses himself?” (Mark 8:36) One of Jesus’ most famous and startling rhetoric questions awaits our response.
Another highlight of this season, is the tradition of the Christian community visiting homes of friends and relatives on Easter Sunday proclaiming, “Al-Maseeh Qam, Haqqan Qam (Jesus is Risen, He is indeed Risen)!” And for a split second, I close my eyes, and think: what would have happened if Jesus remained in the tomb?
I rapidly and happily open them again, relieved and I think to myself: “Thank God, Jesus is alive. He walks with me (across the checkpoints). He listens to me (when I shout Hosanna).And He lives forever more!” Not only this, but the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me! Isn’t that simply mind-blowing?
As we remember Jesus’ death and suffering for us, I pray that this Easter will speak freshly to the hearts of my people, the Palestinians, in our difficult situations, rejection, and suffering. May it also bring encouragement to the hearts of the body of Christ celebrating and remembering the glorious resurrection all over the world. Let us also remember that Jesus left the tomb of Jerusalem empty to fill our hearts with His very presence and essence, so that in “Him we move, breathe and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
Blessings and peace